Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Waste Land



This is what I've come to call the front lawn area. Here's the story - I've just about eliminated all the grass on our property. I can now mow all the grassy areas in about 30 minutes (this is better than 3 or 4 hours that it used to take when we had no garden, just lawn). However, I did want a large grassy area in the front of the house to give the eye a rest. Heaven knows there's so much going on that the eye needs it.

Well, I may as well forget that idea. It is shady here and worse, three red maples spread their hungry shallow roots all over the place. I have tried just about every grass known to man. I thought I had the solution when I planted fescue two years ago. It was beautiful that winter but it died the following summer. Fescue doesn't like our summer heat. I could replant it and water it daily in the summer but we don't have a sprinkler system and I know it would not get watered even with my best intentions.

I've thought about making a gravel pathway through part of it and surround it with dwarf Mondo grass. I know it is tough and tolerates shade. I'm not sure about the root competition. I saw a garden in Birmingham where large areas were completely covered in this and it looks great.

So, what to do? If any of you garden designers out there can give me some suggestions, I'd love to hear them.



28 comments:

  1. I have dwarf Mondo Grass under a maple tree. It is surviving just fine...but it grows slowly. You are in a warmer climate than my Zone 6 so it might grow faster for you. I will be interested to hear what others think. Good luck.

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  2. Hi there, my plant knowledge in your part of the world is limited but here in Scotland I would be tempted to grow a slection of different evergreen ferns to give a block of cool green. Perhaps that might work for you :-D

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  3. Why not some kind of moss, or low ground cover? I like moss myself?!?!

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  4. Heh. I'm trying to kill off all the grass around here, so I'm not a whole lot of help. Plus you're way, way warmer than I am here in NS. Maybe couchgrass (quackgrass) would work? Then of course it would be everywhere...

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  5. Ooh, that does look like a tough spot. But actually, gravel sounds lovely to me. And you'd be surprised at what plants will pop up in gravel if you want them (and they're easy to pull if you don't want them). How about a stone pathway through the gravel to the side and back yards? Or if you don't want people to go that way, perhaps gravel raked into a pattern, sort of like a Japanese garden? It'd be a lot of gravel though. If you recall the photo I had of the raked gravel at Chanticleer, that's kind of what I was thinking of.

    I have some ornamental grasses and daffodil bulbs right near my Japanese maple but my tree is much smaller than yours. Good luck with it and I look forward to hearing about what you do with it.

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  6. What about pachysandra? It likes shade.

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  7. I like the idea of a stone patio with thyme or grass growing into between the steps...that would definitely work in shade! It could be an extension of your stone walkway in one of the photos.

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  8. Phillip have you tried Zosia or St. Augustine? Remember how they have that huge Stone Patio at the back of the house at Jasmine Hill? You could do something like that with recycled concrete like you did behind the house. Boy, that would be some heavy work. Or, just pay someone to come in, put a professional irrigation system in that area and put down sod. It couldn't cost that much, it's not a really large space.

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  9. Hi Philip, I hope you get some great suggestions. My front yard has three huge sugar maples. Weeds, lawn violets and various bird seeds grow well under them but those options are ragged and ugly. I'm at a point where I was even considering bishop's weed. (I know, very drastic measure.) Maybe that old fashioned Lamium galeobdolon, Yellow Archangel, a rampant spreader and able to withstand drought and lean soil.
    Marnie

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  10. Lisa, this is what I'm leaning toward at the moment.

    Shirl, love your suggestion about ferns. The only thing is this area is dry and I'm not sure if they would do well.

    DirtPrincess, I like moss too and haven't thought about that. I don't think the area would be damp enough to support it though.

    Jodi, I'm not familiar with couchgrass - I'll have to look that up!

    Jean, I do need a pathway leading from the main walkway to the front door and the side of the house. I've always loved pea gravel and have used it in other areas of the garden. I like the stone suggestion as well.

    Anon, I do have some pachysandra inside the brick edging and I too like it. Hmm, good idea!

    Cindy, I like that too, I was just afraid that I had too many patio areas already.

    J&R, the problem with zoysia is it needs more sun and this is a shady area. I don't think St. Augustine is too hardy up here. A stone area does indeed sound good.

    Marnie, I should have researched maples more before I planted them!

    Thanks - keep those suggestions coming!

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  11. I'll be interested to see the suggestions too. Those maples are hard to plant under, but they sure are pretty.

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  12. Phillip, it is a dilemma...I am in this process myself and we've decided to go with solid pine straw....I really loved the idea of gravel, but on a slope it might have been a mess. Another thought are native sedges that don't need moisture....Carex pensylvania, Pennsylvania sedge would work....but the cost factor could be extreme. gail

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  13. I like the gravel pathway idea. Add in some stepping stones like your walkway has. I like the moss idea too although it will probably go dormant in the summer heat. Have you tried creeping red fescue? It tolerates more shade than others do. I have fescue in our yard and don't water during the summer. It has a dormant period where it goes brown but doesn't die then it comes back in the fall. I overseed each year to help thicken things up.

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  14. It definitely looks like a tough spot. I like the gravel suggestion, maybe with some nice brick edging to define it, and enlarge the side beds a bit so the gravel area isn't so big. Also, Epimedium works well for me in dry shade. You could have a big area of that.

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  15. Dave, I will do some research on red fescue.

    Phillip, I have some epimedium in another dry area and it has been great. I really like it.

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  16. I would second Jamie and Randy's St. Augustine suggestion. If you are in zone 7b or higher, it should be hardy for you and it is more shade tolerant than many other turf grasses. It does go "blond" during the winter, but comes back green in late spring. A healthy stand will grow thick enough to choke out weeds and it does not need cutting as often as fescue, plus it is drought and heat tolerant.

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  17. Hi Phillip, the trunks of the maples and edging are already wonderful. There is a grass that grows in shade, Descampsia cespitosa that has movement and looks great planted en masse. The mondo would look good too and work well.
    Frances

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  18. Creeping jenny, the green variety, not the yellow/green one, does great in shade under my trees. I tried the yellowish variety and it died out. Also have some ferns 2-3 feet tall, unfortunately I don't know their name, that I brought with me from Louisiana years ago, that will spread like wildfire in shade OR sun. Somebody out there in S'port, La tell me what variety they are. Everyone there has them growing alongside their houses. It's a truly bullet proof plant that works great under trees.

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  19. My hubby loves to make flower beds because it becomes an area no longer needing mowing.
    Donna

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  20. There's something comforting in knowing a part of your garden isn't perfect, Phillip!

    Gravel seems to make everything grow better, especially when you don't want anything to grow in it! With some compost mixed in it can work for some plants that want drainage in winter...wonder what would happen if you added gravel and then tried a few squares of ST Augustine as an experiment. I'm amazed at how little water that grass takes where there is shade.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

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  21. It's a tough decision you have here. Nothing looks like quit like grass except for grass. But, with the shallow maple roots, you can't keep grass in this location. Take out the maples. The maples were perfect for the area before, but they are holding back progress on an area you obviously have a vision for. Let the sunshine in! In the beds around the grass area, you could plant some flowering/butterfly attracting plants! You could show off that great house of yours as well. Maybe even an additional patio area here would be nice near the lawn. Imagine an area you can sit and relax in after a tough day of work. Just my thoughts. Can't wait to see what you decide! Amazingly inspiring blog!

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  22. Have you considered Peacock moss, or even the "Brigadoon" hypericum, or a combination of the two? I recently planted that in very dry shade, and it's loving life. The hypericum is evergreen in Atlanta, so might work for you.

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  23. Have you maybe considered raised beds? Then even if it's dry and relatively shady, you could at least provide nutrient rich, root free, aerated soil for whatever you plan on growing.

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  24. Maybe some nice ceramic planters would be a good alternative to raised beds. They tend to look quit good next to gravel and stone in general.

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  25. I have no idea about grasses and lawns, so I hope someone comes to your rescue. Dirt Princess' idea was cool. Moss would be a great idea, wouldn't it?

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  26. Mondo grass would look really good. I saw a show on tv once where the guy was the "mondo man." The only problem is that it takes so long to spread. Another good alternative would be ajuga. There are several different varieties - light to dark colored and small to large-leafed varieties. They spread fast, look great and you even get 3 inch tall blue flowers in spring. I look forward to seeing what you do with this area.

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  27. Phillip, I was just reading the book Southern Shade, and it had a photo of a mondo grass lawn that looked very nice. I have some growing under a magnolia tree, so I am sure it would grow in your front area if you wanted a lawn look. In areas where I can't grow grass, I usually just put in pine straw, but I don't know how that would look in such a large area so near to a front entrance. Good luck.

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  28. Phillip, after seeing your comment on my blog, I had another thought. I was just thinking about your situation when I was watering my plants and thought creeping lirope would also work. I have some growing around and under some shrubs that gets very little sun. There is the added advantage of the purple flowers, too. Leaves also fall into the lirope and just disappear. You wouldn't really have to rake anything with these plants. Also this is a very fast spreader. Just a thought.

    Jan
    Always Growing

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